Adoption has become a popular option for people looking to add a pet to their home. As it should be! Animals in rescues and shelters can be ready-made pets. Your local shelter is a great place to start your search. However, they have limited resources available for matching, so if you wish for a more personalized experience, or are looking for a certain breed/type of pet, you might look into local rescues.
But be ready to research! Not all rescues are equal. Some may have good intentions but are so focused on getting pets into homes that they miss important steps, setting dogs and owners up to fail. And sadly, there are some that take advantage of rescue’s good name, running “retail” rescues that operate like a business. Their focus is placing dogs and collecting fees, without looking after the best interests of animals or humans.
How do you know you are working with a reputable rescue? Look for the following:
You should be encouraged to ask questions about your potential new family member, have a no-pressure “meet and greet”, and be given time to think about the pet’s fit with your family.
And the rescue should be concerned about screening YOU. Most will require a home check and/or references along with an in-depth interview to ensure you are a match for the pet. If a rescue offers to drop a dog at your door a day after receiving your application, or they are hosting “mass adoption” events, that tells you that screening is not their priority.
The animal should be vet checked, spayed/neutered, and vaccinated prior to adoption. If there are any health issues or suspected health issues, the animal should come with vet records and a treatment plan so you know what to expect.
When the adoption is finalized, the rescue should provide you with documentation about the dog's care and health status. All vet records, vaccine certificates, microchip information, etc, should be made available.
There should be a procedure to assess the dog for behavioural issues – friendliness with strangers/animals, separation anxiety, housetraining, etc. Most rescues have a foster period to help the dog decompress from shelter life and allow for their true personality to emerge. When dealing with living creatures there are always some surprises, but the rescue should have steps in place to catch potential problems early and put a training plan in place.
The rescue shouldn’t be out of your life once papers are signed. They should encourage you to contact them with any questions and connect you with resources. If things don’t work out, they should be ready to take a dog back – in fact, they should insist on it. A rescue’s commitment should be for the lifetime of an animal.
Reasonable adoption fees
Some rescues will charge a little more for puppies, or a little less for special-needs dogs, but rescues shouldn’t be raising prices for “desirable” dogs as a profit-making initiative. Among BC rescues, the average adoption fee is $250-600, which (barely) covers basic vetting and care. An adoption fee should include the cost to spay or neuter the dog and typically includes first vaccines, deworming and a tattoo or microchip.
Check whether the rescue is a registered non-profit society or a registered Canadian charity. If they are not, it doesn’t mean they are bad – every organization has to start somewhere. Conversely, an organization can follow basic guidelines for BC non-profits and still fall short of good rescue practices. Non-profit or charitable status doesn't guarantee quality but it tells us that the organization has taken a step towards some accountability.
The rescue should also use detailed contracts and be able to talk knowledgeably about their policies and procedures. It's also a good sign if they carry insurance.
It’s worth noting that rescues are almost always run by volunteers, so a little patience and understanding might be necessary. But any reputable rescue should respect your questions and be comfortable speaking to any of the above points.
Ask for references and do research! Talk to vets, trainers, trusted rescues, and people in the pet industry to determine how long the rescue has been around and whether it operates ethically. Don't rely on social media posts or testimonials from a handful of adopters. Even the shadiest rescues will have their fans because they "save animals" or because some adopters lucked out and are happy with the pet they adopted.
It might seem like extra work – but this is a family member and a commitment of 5, 10, or 15 years. Don’t be swayed by an emotional appeal or any pressure to adopt. A good rescue has the well-being of the animal as its first priority, and would not engage in manipulative tactics to secure an adoption.
No Puppy Mills
Information on sourcing reputable rescues and breeders.
Island Dog Rescue - Ethical vs Unethical Rescues
Recognizing a "McRescue".
Animal Welfare Advisory Network of BC
A growing network of BC rescues committed to establishing ethical practices and standards. Their membership list is a great starting point for connecting to local, responsible rescues.
red flags in rescue
Thousands of BC families each year choose to adopt a pet, and this can be a wonderful experience that enriches lives. With the popularity of pet adoption there are dozens of new rescues that pop up each year in BC. Sadly, some do not have the best interests of the animal, the family, or the community at heart.
Some mean well but do not have the experience or resources to set dogs up for success. Others are driven by profit and “flip” dogs from shelter to home, collecting $500-800 per transaction. We would like to remind potential adopters to look for ‘red flags’ when considering a dog from a rescue organization.
It’s become commonplace to see rescues bringing dogs from the US, and increasingly from Mexico, the Middle East, or Asia.
Some of these rescues market their dogs using tragic stories about the meat trade, high kill shelters, or other heart-wrenching narratives. Sometimes these are not even true, and the practices of these rescues may actually be highly stressful or dangerous for the animal.
Is the rescue bringing in so many dogs at a time that they will have a hard time providing adequate care to each one?
Do they have the foster homes, experienced support volunteers, and financial resources prepared to adequately support these dogs, or are they trying to adopt them out and absolve responsibility for them as quickly as possible?
Are they doing comprehensive vet checks to make sure these dogs aren’t bringing in parasites or disease?
Are they following quarantine and decompression periods before placing them up for adoption? The transport process alone is stressful, let alone the transition to another country.
Are they choosing to transport dogs that will be a good fit to urban life in Canada, or setting them up for failure? For example, are they expecting a formerly feral dog to live in a condo in the city?
Acknowledging that foreign relocation is a big adjustment, do they have post-placement support for you?
If they claim to be rescuing dogs from tragic circumstances, are they also supporting efforts on the ground in the home country? Removing individual dogs from that environment is easy to do, but what about the parents, offspring, and siblings of those dogs? Are these groups supporting advocacy, education, vet care, and other measures to address the wider problem?
We do not support the practice of bringing multiple dogs to pet stores or public places and doing on-site adoptions. For adoptable dogs, life has been stressful and uncertain enough to this point. Is it fair to put them in a busy, noisy environment and expect them to show their true personalities? Is it safe to have a group of stressed dogs you don’t know well in a public place with children, strangers, and others?
These events attract a ton of attention, and sometimes even feature food trucks and DJs! All that is fun, but save it for fundraisers. You are making the decision about an animal that might be in your life for the next 15-20 years. That decision should be made with deep consideration and time.
Screening and support
A reputable rescue should provide behavioural and medical screening during the foster period, to ensure that they understand the pet’s needs before matching it with a forever home.
A rescue should be screening every adopter. Interviews, reference checks, and a home check should be standard practice. Sadly, not every home that wants a dog is a good home for a dog. And not every dog is the right fit certain homes or lifestyles. That’s why animals end up at the shelter in the first place.
Is the rescue working with you to find a dog that will be successful in your home? Are they asking thoughtful questions and taking them into consideration? Or do they seem to be in a hurry to move the process along?
Is the representative qualified to be working with you? Can they knowledgeably answer general questions about adoption and behaviour, and specific questions about the dog you’re applying for?
Have they asked for references or talked to you about your past experiences? What steps are they taking to make sure YOU a good home (you know this already, but how do they know?)?
Do they use emotional manipulation (“this dog is on death row!” or “this dog will be snapped up soon if you don’t agree to foster him today!”) to pressure you into decisions?
Do they talk to you in detail about the training and handling techniques you’ll use on a dog? Your plans to contain him safely, how long he will be home alone, and other questions pertaining to his quality of life?
If they ask you to come to a pet store or similar event, would that be followed by a meet-and-greet in a safe, minimally stressful place where you can see the dog’s natural behaviour? For organizations without a shelter or sanctuary, this would usually be the foster home.
Do they offer any kind of “trial” to ensure a fit, or do they want you to meet the dog and sign papers in the same day? Some rescues offer a foster-to-adopt period or may allow you to do a trial weekend. Others may not, but they should encourage an additional meeting or a trainer’s assessment to help you make your decision.
Behaviour and health
All dogs should be spayed and neutered before the adoption is finalized. Exceptions should only be made for dogs with severe health considerations who cannot have surgery.
It is not acceptable to adopt out puppies without sterilizing them and trusting the adopter to do it later– this means that at least some of the time, it won’t be done at all. A rescue cannot in good conscience put a pet into the community that may parent more unwanted dogs.
Is the dog spayed or neutered?
Has the dog been vaccinated?
Is she microchipped or tattooed?
Has a basic vet check been done, appropriate to the dog’s age?
If there is anything out of the ordinary (e.g, lumps, dental issues, signs of disease, etc) has it been investigated to a reasonable extent with results provided to the adopter?
If the dog has travelled from another country, has it been examined for diseases or parasites common in those countries? Has an appropriate quarantine procedure been followed on both sides of the border?
Has some kind of behaviour assessment been done? Can the rescue confidently tell you how the dog does in everyday circumstances – strangers coming in the home, meeting strangers outside the home, passing dogs/cats/kids/skateboards, being left alone in the house?
If there are serious behaviour considerations, will the rescue help find you a trainer? Ideally, will they pay for part of the costs to get you on the right track?
It surprises people to learn that there is absolutely no regulation for rescue. Anyone can call themselves a “rescue” and adopt out any dog. This means they aren’t accountable for the dog being healthy or behaviourally sound, and there’s no recourse to have them take the dog back or issue a refund if the adoption doesn’t work out.
Are they an incorporated Non-Profit Society or Registered Charity? This is not a guarantee of ethical rescue practices, but it shows they have some commitment to professionalism.
How long have they been in operation? If they are new, do the representatives have a background working with other shelters/rescues, or at least in the training, animal welfare, or veterinary field?
Do they have waivers and contracts for foster/adoption agreements?
Do they have policies and information in writing for you to review?
Do they have partnerships with reputable professionals in the industry: veterinarians, trainers, and boarding facilities?
What is their reputation within the pet industry, and are they willing to provide references?
How do they conduct themselves in public and online? Do they become defensive about complaints? Do they get into arguments on social media? Lack of professionalism in one area often translates to another.
Do they take dogs back when an adoption doesn’t work out?
Are they frequently posting about needing emergency foster homes or money? While an organization may fall upon hard times and need help, this shouldn’t be a regular occurrence if they are running their organization in a responsible manner.
Will they promptly transfer records to you once the adoption is finalized, and let you view any pertinent information (eg, a trainer’s assessment) while you are making your decision?
Are the adoption fees reasonable - in line with groups like the SPCA? Do they ask you to pay in cash or to a personal account? Do they quote you additional costs or charge higher rates for more “adoptable” dogs?
This is a long list and it may seem like overkill! Perfectly good rescues may not even meet one or two elements on the checklist. But with no regulatory body in place to protect the animals or the adopters, it is up to you to protect yourself and your only defense is education.
You may be tempted to adopt from a less-than-ethical rescue because you feel sorry for a dog, or simply want to give it a home. Please think carefully about this decision. By doing so you will be lining the pockets of the organization and keeping them in operation.
You may also be putting yourself at risk. If this dog is unhealthy, the vet bills are your responsibility, and this can quickly escalate to thousands of dollars. If the dog has significant behavioural issues, you will need to change your life to accommodate him – no traveling, no flexibility to have a neighbour walk your dog if you are working late, constant vigilance, legal liability, and more money spent on training.
You may not even have the backup plan of taking the dog to the shelter if things get really bad. The majority of BC shelters are not “open intake” so if they don’t have space or don’t consider your dog adoptable, they will turn you away.
The good news is that you can avoid almost all of this risk by working with a reputable organization or shelter, taking the time to educate yourself, and avoiding these red flags!